Healthcare Leader Dan Wolterman: More Than Skin Deep

The view from Dan Wolterman’s office in the new Memorial Hermann tower at Memorial City shows both downtown Houston in the distance and Uptown Houston closer in. This is where Dan Wolterman works as CEO of the sprawling Memorial Hermann Healthcare System that has in recent months taken the world’s center stage as rehabilitation specialist to U.S. Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. There, Wolterman made time to talk with CancerFoward about another rehabilitation….his own, following his personal journey with cancer.

About two and a half years ago, just before Hurricane Ike, Dan Wolterman was about to make a trip to Mexico. A few days before his departure, he went to see his dermatologist. A mole behind his ear was bothering him when he put on his sunglasses. There was also a little “dot” that had appeared on his forearm that he mentioned to his doctor…almost in passing. It was “probably nothing” but a biopsy was taken anyway, before Dan left on his trip. While traveling, Wolterman’s dermatologist sent Dan a text message saying that said he must get back to Houston immediately.

That little “dot” turned out to be a rare and aggressive form of skin cancer called amelanotic melanoma. Immediate removal of the “dot” was required and time was critical. Everything was scheduled for the surgery, and then Hurricane Ike hit. Wolterman was consumed with keeping the Memorial Hermann system operating and the surgery was delayed for eight days. When the surgery finally took place, an 8-inch section of skin was removed from Dan’s forearm all the way down to the bone.

Then came the waiting. Waiting to hear if the surgery was successful. Waiting to hear what the next step would be.

Fortunately, the surgery was a success. Mr. Wolterman’s arm was reconstructed. He was playing golf again within six months.

Tests continued every few months, still to this day. The possibility of a relapse remains. Meanwhile, the few months during which Mr. Wolterman journeyed from feeling healthy to learning of the amelanotic melanoma, to the positive surgical result, still impact his life.

At first, he kept his diagnosis to himself. His family knew, as did the Memorial Hermann Board of Directors. But, no one else. Now, he tells everyone about his skin cancer. He tells family, friends, people he plays golf with…anyone who will listen. He passionately wants them to understand how important it is to check your skin, be familiar with all your moles and marks. His cancer appeared as a little pinprick, barely raised above the skin. He suggests that everyone keep a list of all their moles and marks to go through with their dermatologist every year.

What has changed in his life? He speaks of working less, spending more time with family and taking the time to tell everyone he possibly can to go get screened. He notes how the mole that brought him to the dermatologist probably saved his life. Most importantly, he tries to cherish every day, every moment and, especially, to cherish the people in his life.

These days, instead of working long hours on a daily basis, Dan seeks greater balance in his life. He is the chair of the National Senior Olympic Games (for individuals 50 or older) and is making sure a skin protection message is incorporated into the games.

The message that Dan sends today is constant: “share your cancer story. Not only does talking about your experiences help you, the information about your personal story may save someone’s life.”

Category: Survivors in the News

Tags: biopsy, cancer, CancerForward Survivor in The News, Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, dermatologist, Hurricane Ike, melanoma, Memorial Hermann Healthcare System, mole, rehabilitation, skin cancer, skin protection